Daytona Twin 125s: Team Monte Carlo race notes

Team Monte Carlo hit a double-header when Jeff Gordon and Michael Waltrip captured wins in the first and second 125 qualifying races (respectively) for the Daytona 500. Veteran Chevy driver, Dave Marcis, prepares to retire by qualifying for his...

Team Monte Carlo hit a double-header when Jeff Gordon and Michael Waltrip captured wins in the first and second 125 qualifying races (respectively) for the Daytona 500. Veteran Chevy driver, Dave Marcis, prepares to retire by qualifying for his 33rd Daytona 500. With 15 Daytona 500 victories in the record books, Chevrolet looks to add to its heritage in Sunday's race. Driver comments follow:

Michael Waltrip, driver of the No. 15 NAPA Auto Parts Chevrolet Monte Carlo, won the 2001 Daytona 500 and finished second to his DEI teammate, Dale Earnhardt Jr. in the 2001 Pepsi 400 at Daytona International Speedway.

What do you think of the new rules package? "NASCAR had to do something. I thought it might be a good idea to take off half of the roof flap and half of the gurney flag and change it but not reconstruct it. But they chose to take the rules all the way back to the way they were in 2000. I think everybody is concerned that the race won't be up to standards of what they saw last year. We kind of created a monster. We did something that isn't good. But it was fun to watch. We're not crash dummies. We're human beings. You can't put us in that position.

"The old rules made it to where you could go anywhere. You could shoot it in a hole that wasn't there. When somebody finally had enough and decided to do that, then you had a huge wreck. We'll still be in a pack of 30 or 40 cars, I imagine. But instead of it being two-wide here at Daytona back 20 rows, hopefully it will be sorted out somewhat. I don't understand why everybody can't remember how exciting the Daytona 500 has been over the years when Richard Petty and David Pearson and Darrell Waltrip ran just the three of them racing for the win. Why do you have to have 40 cars in a pack to say it's exciting? We just changed the standards with some of the races we had over the last couple of years."

Why is DEI so dialed in on these superspeedways? "We're dialed in everywhere. We just have great racecars and great engines. Dale Earnhardt put together a team that has really done the job. We're able to showcase it more at Daytona and Talladega because we can work together more. Those are two great places where we can take our great racecars and team up against people and make some really good progress. And we've done that."

Last year, did your win at Daytona set you up for disappointment afterwards? "Yeah, it did. I thought I would do a lot better than I did last year. I was really disappointed halfway through the year. I was lost, basically. I didn't like where I was, didn't like how I felt, and I didn't like my attitude heading to the race track every week. But about three-quarters through the year I got a new crew chief (Richard Labbe) and we began to make some ground. And we went to Homestead and we could have won that race. And those are the things you want. You just want a chance as a racecar driver. But I was really thankful that the guys at DEI listened to me when I explained to them what I needed. And then they got what I needed. If we don't do better this year, I'll be very surprised."

Why is it so expensive to race and where does all that money go? "I get a lot of it. The teams hire a lot of people. Obviously you can make a pretty good living these days as a crew member or a crew chief or as a driver. But the technology is expensive. The computer systems that we have on our cars when we go test just blow my mind. Five years ago there was nothing like this. People, technology, wind tunnel tests, and engine development all adds up. I can honestly see why it costs 10 or 15 million dollars. Ten years ago when it cost three or four million, it was easy to see that. You didn't have to buy everything you have to buy now. If you ever wondered where all that money goes, just come to DEI and walk around. We'll show it to you. It's all right there. And that's what it takes to have a good racecar."

As a racecar driver, has winning the Daytona 500 changed your life significantly? "I don't know that it's changed it significantly, but it's changed it. Whether you're Michael Waltrip or Jeff Gordon or Richard Petty, you can't be the Daytona 500 champion without it having an impact on people around you. When I say that, I mean the race fans. They want to congratulate you for winning the biggest race of the year. It has changed people's perception of me. It's helped me to feel good about my career. It's like putting something good on your resume. Anytime you can do that, it's a good thing."

What are your emotions as you return to Daytona on the one-year anniversary of winning and of the Dale Earnhardt tragedy? "I look forward to coming here. I couldn't wait to come here last July because I wanted to win the race. I feel the same way now. It's just where I want to be. I don't like answering a lot of questions about it and I'm not going to. But I'm very balanced and very emotionally centered on what I'm here for. And that's a good feeling."

How does it feel to be the defending champ? "I didn't even think of that. It didn't even enter my mind until I got here and now I've heard it a couple of times. It just puts an extra bounce in your step. I'm happy to hear that. It feels good-especially when I consider all the great champions that have won this event before me. That's a neat deal. I was most happy when I came to Daytona about the opportunity to win it again because I knew my Chevy would run. The defending champ gig is just a little bonus.

Do you feel any pressure? "I just feel real confident. I'm proud that I have a car that I can win with again. That's the coolest thing. The NAPA Auto Parts Chevrolet is fast enough to pull it off again."

What would be the ideal race conditions for the Daytona 500? "Just a nice day. If it's sunny and 70 that's perfect. If it's cloudy and 70 that's perfect. You don't want it to be overly cold because the tires don't seem to stick real well right out of the pits, and you don't want it to be overly hot because it's hard to remain focused and conditioned. But I like it when it's hot because I think I'm in pretty good shape."

On his teamwork with Dale Earnhardt Jr. "We had pretty good teamwork last year in all four plate races. We did really well together. I don't see any difference this year. We were out there in practice just kind of playing the game and figuring out what it takes to do what. We're going to make a few changes in our car and I think we'll be fine."

Do you know each other's moves? "Somewhat. Sometimes you become a little lax and that's not healthy because he's a racer too. If I don't block every angle and take care of every opportunity that he creates, then he'll jump on me. It's important to know each other's moves, but it's also important to know that you're after the same thing and that's the checkered flag."

When is enough is enough with the rules changes? "I think enough is enough when the conversations are centered around a quarter-inch on a spoiler. We're here to race. This is the Daytona 500. This is what we're all about. This is what we do. I think it's just crazy that we keep talking about it. I don't choose to get involved in it. I just go race my car and have a good time doing it."

Will everybody be bunched up in the race tomorrow? "Oh definitely. If you watched practice, it's crazy out there."

Dave Marcis, driver of the No. 71 Realtree Chevrolet Monte Carlo, will close the door of his racing career where it opened -- at the Daytona 500. Marcis launched his career at the 1968 Daytona 500, and has competed in NASCAR for five decades.

What are your fondest memories of Daytona? "Probably the first time coming here and seeing the place, winning the 125-miler here in 1976 and just the thrill of being here at Daytona every year. I don't remember what year Buddy Baker won the race (1980) and I ran second all day to him. However, we had a problem in the pit and had lost a lap. When we got back out there, I drafted on Buddy all day, the entire day. You finished second, but you were down a lap.

"Meeting Mr. Bill France, Sr. was really special when I first came down here and worked with him to help promote NASCAR 35 years ago. He used to tell us guys to get over there and talk to any news camera guys or any press people because he wanted us to help him to promote the sport. He wanted us to help him and he knew it was going someplace. In those days, we went to the news media. They didn't come to us. He (France Sr.) used to tell us in plain English that we had better be talking to them.

"It doesn't really seem like that many years ago when you stop and think about it. But coming down here with a '66 Chevrolet with a 427 cubic inch big block engine was a big handful. There was a lot of horsepower there. We didn't have all those rear spoilers and we didn't have the good tires. They were narrower and they had tread on them. It was simpler, but it was a hell of a handful.

"This track really means a lot to mean. It's very important. This is where I began my NASCAR career right here in 1968. And here we are back here in 2002 trying to make this our 33rd Daytona 500. We're here again with a brand new Chevrolet Monte Carlo. If we can make this race, it'll mean an awful lot to me and to my sponsors and to the guys that work on my cars, all the guys at Richard Childress Racing, and all the race fans."

Jeff Gordon, No. 24 DuPont Chevrolet Monte Carlo - Q&A's with the media after Wednesday's first practice session: "The guys have just done an incredible job preparing the DuPont Chevrolet for Daytona. I'm extremely excited. All the Hendrick cars are running well and we're looking forward to tomorrow. We really don't know what we're going to have until we get out there."

How much do you expect Jimmie Johnson to learn during speedweeks? "Well, there's certainly a lot to learn - especially in the draft. With the way the draft is this year, there's probably more education going on than ever. It gets very frustrating when you've got that yellow stripe on your bumper and not too many guys want to go with you and help you out. But he's doing a great job. He has what it takes to get it done. We're looking forward to him getting a little more educated in that race tomorrow (Thursday)."

Do you want to see him race to win or just concentrate on seat time? "I think they go hand-in-hand. I want him to race to win because I know that's how he does it. He's out there to win and that team is capable of it. So is Jimmie. There's a huge education that goes along with it. He's a humble guy. He knows he's going to be out there learning a lot. At the same time, that doesn't mean he can't win."

Is there still much of an education in the draft for you? "I make mistakes every once in a while and I'm learning too. But these are the types of rules that play more to my way of driving. The two Daytona 500's that I've won were more like this. I like it a lot better. The things that I'm used to doing out there and the things that I learned from Dale Earnhardt are what's coming into play out there right now for me."

On his championship goals: "Our goals are always to win the championship. Once you've won one, you've got to put that high on your list. We've got the team and the chemistry to do it. I think we're even a stronger team this year than we were last year. That doesn't mean that we're automatically going to win it. That means that I feel like we have as good a shot this year as we've ever had. There's some other teams out there that will be a real threat too."

How will this race compare to past years? "It won't be like last year's. There won't be as many lead changes. But it's still going to be exciting. There will be a lot of great racing and side-by-side action. I don't think it'll be boring like 2000 was. It'll be more like 1999, '98, '97 race. I see Fords, Pontiacs, Dodges, Chevys out there battling and passing and leading and I think it will be a great race."

Has the rules change for Ford altered the balance of power on the racetrack? "No, it hasn't changed much. In the draft, I don't even think you'll be able to see a difference there. You might see a little bit of speed that helps them, and that's fine. My whole thing was go to the wind tunnel. Don't go off of guys complaining and guys that are not running as good out there on the track as they should. They went to the wind tunnel and they got the facts and made the adjustments based on that and so I'm fine with it."

Will you be able to make a daring pass to win like you did three years ago? "Well, not because of the yellow line (rule). I can still make some daring passes out there but I won't be able to go below that yellow line. So we'll see. I think it'll still be an exciting race and you'll see a lot of passing. It seems like passing for the lead is pretty tough. I'm going to be working real hard to try to figure out ways to make those passes if I'm not already the guy out front."

Is the 125's a good gauge for the Daytona 500? "Oh yeah, and so was the Shootout. Seventy laps out there was a pretty good gauge. Fifty laps without a pit stop - well, there may be a pit stop if there's a caution - but to go out there and see what the handling is like is always good. There are some guys that know that they are going home. If they don't get to a certain place, they'll be making some moves to try to get there. A lot of us are just trying to figure out what our cars need - in handling, passing, and speed -- for the 500. Some guys are going to be taking big risks and some guys won't be taking big risks. They'll wait 'til the 500."

-tmc-

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About this article
Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Dale Earnhardt , Dale Earnhardt Jr. , Jeff Gordon , Darrell Waltrip , Michael Waltrip , Jimmie Johnson , Dave Marcis , Richard Petty , Buddy Baker , David Pearson
Teams Richard Childress Racing